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THE TUROE STONE

 


JOURNEY   INTO   THE    DEPTHS   OF   MANKIND'S   PAST






For people who are interested in prehistoric Celtic art, or indeed in art of any kind, this decorated stone (photograph below) is undoubtedly one of the most interesting items they are ever likely to see: regardless of where they go to in the world. 

In contrast to their Greek and Roman contemporaries, and for reasons unknown, the pre-Christian Celtic communities appear to have banned reading and writing (except perhaps for a very small number of their druids); and there seems to be no trace of any written material of theirs in existence. In place of normal writing, it looks as though they decided instead on the use of a relatively simpler set of symbols for expressing ideas (rather than words): and for maintaining and strengthening their religious and political beliefs. In so far as the long term survival of their race and language was concerned, this "paper free" approach appears to have proved surprisingly successful for them.

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After a relatively short period, the once great (and relatively heavily centralized and bureaucratic) Greek and Roman Empires fell by the wayside: while the "Celtic Empire" with its decentralized cell like power structure, has so far managed to survive everything life has thrust at it - which at some times in history has been extremely severe. Thanks largely to the Island of Ireland, and the protection its seas provided from the Roman armies (which were largely responsible for the destruction of the pre-Christian Celtic power bases elsewhere in Europe), the Irish cell of the ancient Celtic cultural matrix - which of course included the Irish language, not only survived the so called "Dark Ages", but even managed to produce some of the world's greatest works of art during that otherwise lackluster period in European history.   (In certain parts of rural Ireland, the Irish language continues to be some people's first language.)

Largely as a result of the influence of St. Patrick it seems, the Irish Celts took to pen and ink art in the fifth century AD; and just around the time when the great classical libraries on mainland Europe were being wrecked (by anti-Roman forces) and destroyed forever, the Celtic scribes in Ireland were busy copying everything (both pagan and Christian) they could lay their hands on. Items copied included works by people such as Homer and Aristotle. (A generation or so later, a group of Celtic monks then left Ireland to successfully relaunch Western civilization in Scotland, England, and on mainland Europe: by founding a string of monasteries in places such as Iona, York, Paris, Rome, Cologne, Vienna, and many, many others.)

Despite the fact that is has been severely damaged in a number of ways, the eighth century BOOK OF KELLS (for instance), is still considered by many to be the most beautiful book ever written in human history; and the gifted hands of the people who produced it were the direct descendants of the same race of people who cut and carved The Turoe Stone.

kells_1.jpg (57103 bytes)

Page from The Book Of Kells

The above page, which contains examples of almost all the varieties of design found in Celtic art, is considered by many to be the most elaborate, and most beautiful  specimen of calligraphy ever produced.  It represents the opening words of Saint Matthew's Gospel: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ ....."

One interesting piece of symbolism in the above can be seen to the left of the text at the bottom of the page: two rats compete for a piece bread - while two "fat cats" sit back and watch.

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Much of the symbolism used in pre-Christian Celtic stone art is of simple design. Straightforward spirals (for example) were frequently used. Often they appear in a group of three: possibly symbolic of the physical, mental, and spiritual development of a human life winding its way through the rotating seasons of its years - on its journey from birth to death.

3_spirals.jpg (60235 bytes)

NEWGRANGE

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It seems that the changing seasons (and their associated cycles of degeneration and regeneration) were very carefully monitored, and greatly revered by the ancient Celts.  For example, the great passage-tomb at Newgrange, County Meath (which is now thought to have been built around 3100 BC), seems to have been very skillfully constructed in such a way that on the morning of December 21st of each year (the winter solstice), a pencil-thin shaft of light penetrates the chamber for approximately 17 minutes: symbolic perhaps of the womb-like compartment being impregnated by the sun - to mark (and to celebrate maybe?) the start of the new cycle of annual regeneration. Interestingly, there is an extremely ancient burial complex on a hill called "Grange" within a few miles of the Turoe Stone, and at the bottom of one of its slopes there is a raised piece of ground of several acres, with a river in between; and it is tempting to speculate that this may have been the "Old" Grange?

For reasons that are not yet fully clear (and possibly never will be), it appears that in the case of the Turoe Stone, the pre-Christian Celts raised the strength, sophistication, and complexity of their spiritual abstractions and symbolism to the highest level by far that they ever used in their stone art; and, in so doing, they may (in a way similar to the later situation regarding the Book of Kells) have given to the world the finest example of abstract stone art ever produced. 

turoe_f1.jpg (82819 bytes)
THE TUROE STONE
(Believed to have been carved sometime around 150 BC to 250 BC)

The top of the stone is bounded by a three-plane set of curved ornaments, cleverly assembled from a collection of basic repeating patterns such as trumpet-ends, triskeles (symbols consisting of three bent limbs radiating from a center), and even stylized animal heads. Some of the designs are present in both positive and negative forms. All things considered, and as with the Book of Kells, it would seem that the production of this piece of art required amazing abilities: which possibly do not exist in our time.

turoe_sy.jpg (29021 bytes)

TUROE STONE SYMBOLS UNRAVELED
(By Michael Duignan)

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The English name "Turoe" comes from Irish place name "Cloch an Tuair Rua" - which means "The Stone of the Red Pasture"; and it is thought that the word Red  in this particular place name is symbolic of the bloody human sacrifices which apparently were part of the pre-Christian Celtic culture.

However incredible it may feel to us in our time (1999 AD), the ritualistic killing (and replacing) of their aging Kings appears nevertheless to have been a core feature of the pre-Christian Celtic culture; and allowing for all the extra thought and care which appears to have gone into the symbols on the Turoe Stone, it seems possible that the nearby Rath of Feerwore (where the Turoe Stone originally stood) may have been their most important site.  Whatever the situation regarding other speculations, few seem to doubt that the basic shape of the Turoe Stone was very deliberately chosen to represent what continues to be mankind's most potent symbol of regeneration: and through regeneration, genetic survival which transcends death.

In recent years, and to the dismay of many well informed visitors who travel great distances from all over the world to see it, it looks as though acid rain may be eating away at the Turoe Stone in a way which should seriously concern us all?  In addition, there is also concern regarding issues such as vandalism and art theft. Attempts are being made by a few local people to get the expert help and added protection the Turoe Stone seems to so badly need just now, and to so greatly deserve. To date, September 19th 1999, and for whatever reason, these pleas for help during recent months (to the most senior Heritage government ministers) sadly appear to have all fallen on ears that are deaf, and on eyes that are blind.  Although the correspondence to the politicians has been acknowledged by them, there is no sign so far of any meaningful follow up action from them.

For those who are interested, further and more detailed background information regarding the Turoe Stone is available on another local Internet web site:

     http://homepage.eircom.net/~williamfinnerty/ 






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BORD FÁILTE APPROVED TOP VISITOR FARM
TUROE FARM & LEISURE PARK
Bullaun, Loughrea, Co. Galway, Republic of Ireland.
INTERNET:    http://www.esatclear.ie/~turoefarm/       EMAIL: turoefarm@esatclear.ie
Telephone & FAX (dialing from Republic of Ireland): Galway (091) 841580
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"St Albans",  New Inn,  Ballinasloe,  Co. Galway,  Republic of Ireland.

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